Why the Final NFL Preseason Game Can Be Hell for Bubble Players

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Why the Final NFL Preseason Game Can Be Hell for Bubble Players
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Before playing safety for the Redskins, I had to make the final roster as rookie with the Rams in 2000.

Did I do enough to make the squad?

I asked myself that question as a rookie with the St. Louis Rams back in 2000 after the fourth preseason game versus the Cowboys down in Dallas.

With my gold game pants still showing signs of a second-quarter vomit incident due to the increased amount of reps on defense and special teams (mixed in with the hot, humid, stale air of Texas Stadium), I thought I had done enough to earn a spot on Mike Martz’s 53-man roster.

But, man, that game was hell.

The final preseason matchup of the NFL exhibition schedule is a glorified scrimmage with game uniforms. The starters and established veterans won't play, and the key reserves might only see a series—or two—before the guys fighting for a job take over. And those bubble players aren’t coming out of the game.

Play every snap. Cover every kick. No subs.

Your legs will get heavy, your head will hurt, and there will be times when you feel like shutting it down for the night.

But don’t ask for a breather, because there is no one left. Those veterans aren’t going to take off the baseball hats and put down the bags of sunflower seeds to give you a rest.

Nah, you are on your own.

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I made Martz's 53-man roster after surviving the final preseason game as a rookie.

Remember, this is the last audition for guys on the bubble to showcase their abilities in front of the league.

And everyone is watching.

Maybe you do get cut this weekend. This is a tough league. A tough business. And there are only so many spots truly available on the back end of NFL rosters as the final cut-down day approaches.

However, the tape from tonight’s game is going to be watched by 31 other teams as they look for players to hit the waiver wire over the weekend. That could be your chance to stick on a roster and get one of those fresh game plans next week when the regular season starts.

Make a play (or two, or three) and show up in the kicking game.

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Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk were forces to be reckoned with.

During camp as a rookie, I got my ass beat multiple times on the practice field versus Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Ricky Proehl and Az Hakim. That's a lot of talent there to compete against on a daily basis, and to this day, that offense is still the best I have ever seen.

But I continued to improve as a special teams player during the preseason games, and that’s how I ultimately made the team.

It takes time (and reps) to develop on offense or defense in this league, but if you can cover kicks and impact the special teams units on a consistent basis, then there is a spot for you.

The special teams coaches in the NFL are vital when the final rosters are set. Their input in personnel meetings this weekend can be the deciding factor between a bubble player sticking on the team or packing up his locker.

You need to give the coaches a reason to keep you around by making a tackle inside the 20-yard line, getting the ball out, blocking a kick or returning a punt for a score.

Make someone notice. Do something big. Hey, just find a way to stand out.

I loved playing in Texas Stadium during my career. It was a classic. Like Lambeau. Or Candlestick. Or even the Vet. And when I returned to Dallas with the Redskins, the games were as exciting as any I have ever played in.

But on that night back in 2000, I was just trying to survive.

A lot of players will get cut this weekend, and that part of this game stinks. Some will get scooped up on practice squads while others might never play again.

There is one more chance to impress a general manager, coach or scout. And if you can make it through this one, then there could be a real job waiting for you next week in the NFL.

That’s a beautiful thing.

 

Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. 

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